Zdzisław Beksiński, 1999

Zdzisław Beksiński was born on 24 February 1929 in Sanok. He finished the secondary and the high school in Sanok, then started studying architecture at Cracow Polytechnic in 1947. After finishing studies in 1952, he had to stay in Cracow then moved to Rzeszów owing to the work warrant. He came back to Sanok in 1955. Beksinski pursues photography in his home town. Preceding many discoveries of European avant-garde he proved to be an independent and innovative creator. The photographic achievements end with the series of photomontages made by means of juxtaposition of different photographs having no tangible connections with each other. He begins to draw a lot living in Rzeszow yet. In Sanok, he creates sculptures and relieves. He cultivates abstraction which dominates over the world art at that time, whereas in Polish art it becomes the strongest reaction against the imposed socrealism. Beksinski follows his own path in his abstract creativity being distinct from the dominant tachisme. His white or black relieves intrigue by the multi-layered structure of an extraordinarily noble and very expressive surface. The sculptures are actually figurative, they predict the future painting. In our collection, apart from the six abstract paintings, that period is also represented by a large size sculpture and two plaster heads. The departure from abstraction towards the figurative art takes place sharply. The expressive, even drastic art which gains more and more followers is born. When Beksinski's works are exhibited during the congress of the Association of International Critics of Art AICA in 1960, they draw attention of a contemporary president of AICA and concurrently a director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. He offers to him a six-month scholarship in USA. The artist being already aware of his own creative path remains in Sanok as he does not want to distract his own searches. The exhibition organized by Janusz Bogucki at the Old Orangery in Warsaw in 1964 becomes the first significant success of his art.

Sanok workshop of Zdzisław Beksinski, the 70s of 20th c. When Mr. Bogucki presents again the paintings of Beksinski in Warsaw in 1972, the artist surprises audience with complete breaking off with the avant-grade. The works, which are displayed there, mostly landscapes and figural compositions, introduce into so-called the ‘fantastic period’ which will strengthen his position in the modern art, revealing a completely personal and essentially solitary artistic path as if against all avant-grade currents and trends. Beksiński gets ardent supporters or even worshippers as well as equally fierce critics and opponents. His painting does not fit in the conventions of the modern art. Artistic success improves his financial situation and allows him to live only on the art works. The prices of his paintings are growing. The ‘fantastic period’ is primarily associated with his stay in Sanok.

Zdzisław, Tomasz and Zofia Beksiński at the sculpture of HAMLET, 1959


However, the municipal authorities plan to demolish the family house of the artist. Beksinski decides to move to Warsaw. He organizes an apartment and a studio in a block in the district of Ursynow in 1976. Beksinski eventually liquidates his apartment in Sanok and moves to Warsaw in the summer of 1977. Contacts and a contract with Piotr Dmochowski, an art merchant living in France, bring about attempt to launch the artist in the West. Initially, well developing cooperation turns into conflict when the artist starts deviating from the method of painting being characteristic for the ‘fantastic period’ which has brought him such success. Figures or heads of one or several persons become the themes of his works. Less and less often we can see landscapes additionally deprived of that illusionary vision. The artist more focuses on artistic means than on a theme.

Interior of Warsaw workshop, c. 2005

The paintings become more painterly whereas the theme or motif is secondary. Sometimes they are created with countless amount of lines turning into a quasi drawing, sometimes the main form separates itself from the pictorial space like a dimensional sculpture. At the beginning of the 90s Beksinski buys a photocopier and returns, after the years, to the drawing creating by means of copied steps of the work, which lead to various solutions. However, it is the computer which eventually gave him the real opportunity of unlimited transformations of the already achieved effect without risk of damaging it. In the last few years the artist pursues creativity which is called a computer graphic. In a sense he returns to photography, especially to photomontage. His computer graphic is created exclusively through processing photographs and never his own drawings. Incomparably more perfect process of doing photomontage than earlier in a traditional darkroom, allow him to a certain extent to return to the thoughts formulated in the ‘fantastic period’. In the period when he perceived his painting as inferior, more tedious way of photographing dreams.

Verandah in Beksinskis’ family house in Sanok, the 70s of 20th c.


Distant echoes of such thought being realized through new means, cause a trouble in recognizing the medium of the works. Is it far processed photography or maybe still painting creativity just generated in a specific way. However, the most significant for the artist is not a means by which it was achieved but the result. Creativity of Zdzisław Beksinski is inseparably connected with Sanok and the Historical Museum, though paradoxically he had only few individual displays here. The first work has been bought by the museum in 1964 whereas the first display took place here in 1968. His works have always been present on the permanent museum exhibitions. In 1982 the museum presented an exhibition based on its own collection and pictures loaned from Sanok people. In 1988 the museum shown his achievements in the field of photography. The exhibition was organized owe to artistic photography hold by the National Museum in Wroclaw. The Historical Museum has displayed its collection in many cities since many years. The most representative and also the largest exhibition, enlarged by exhibits loaned from several museums, was shown in the Bureau of Art Exhibitions in Poznan. The exhibition prepared in 2002 in chambers of Sanok castle is the only such a comprehensive display of Beksinskis works. This is mainly an individual gallery as the collection of Sanok has individual character.

Almost each work collected in the Historical Museum was chosen by the artist itself as the most significant in his career. They were to represent him the best in the museum. At the end of his life, the artist gave a deposit of paintings and drawings from the recent years supplementing the collection again with works regarded as important for his creativity. Zdzislaw Beksinski was brutally murdered in his Warsaw apartment on 21 February 2005. According to his will, the Historical Museum have become the sole heir of the artist and has inherited several thousand works, including photographs, drawings, graphics and paintings. In 2006 a great posthumous retrospective of Beksinski covering his entire oeuvre was arranged in The National Museum in Gdansk. All exhibited works came from the collection of Sanok museum. On 19 May 2012 the new Gallery of Zdzisław Beksiński along with reconstructed Warsaw workshop was opened in southern wing of the castle.

Wiesław Banach

Translated by:
Piotr Zelny



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